Hello, Horse

Hello, Horse

Hello, Horse










Hello, Horse

Vivian French

Catherine Rayner

Walker Books, 2018

32pp., hbk., RRP $A27.99


It is very daunting meeting Catherine’s friend Shannon for the first time – because Shannon is a horse, a very big horse.  But slowly and gently Catherine manages the meeting showing the little boy that even though Shannon appears huge, she’s actually very gentle and with an apple and some grooming she is very friendly.  But when Catherine suggests that he ride Shannon, does he have the courage?

Part of the Nature Storybook series which includes Dingo, Koala, and Python this new addition looks at a more domesticated animal, one that is familiar to so many of our students but which can appear formidable up close because of its size.  But in the company of an experienced person and armed with the information in both the narrative and the sub-text, like the boy in the story little ones will have more confidence facing their concerns and discovering one of the gentle joys of life – plodding along on the back of a horse. The story is based on the illustrator and her own horse and the detailed watercolour illustrations not only echo her familiarity with these animals but also mirror the child’s anxiety so the reader understands it. 

Those readers who are already familiar with horses will enjoy sharing their knowledge and experiences when the book is shared, but it could also serve as a model for discussing the dos and don’ts of dealing with other domestic pets that may seem somewhat scary to start with.  It will also show that such concerns are common, not babyish, but they can be overcome by learning more.



Kensy and Max – Breaking News

Kensy and Max

Kensy and Max










Kensy and Max – Breaking News

Jacqueline Harvey

Random House Australia, 2018

366pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99  


Imagine getting in a car in one country and waking up in a strange place in another!  That’s the beginning of a whole new adventure for twins Kensy and Max who started their journey in Zermatt, Switzerland and 16 hours later find themselves in the grounds of an unfamiliar mansion in England.  While it seems their carer Fitz knows his way around as he follows an unfamiliar fellow wearing a red dressing gown with matching slippers inside and up the stairs, Max is mystified but the warmth and comfort of a large, soft bed is too tempting and he is soon asleep again.  But when they wake in the morning to find themselves locked in the mystery deepens and the adventures begin…

Breaking News is the first in a new series by the author of both Clementine Rose and Alice-Miranda series, featuring feisty twins Kensy and Max.  At just 11, Kensy is feisty, impulsive and has two speeds – full-tilt or out-cold – while Max is more measured and perceptive, They are smart and athletic and fiercely competitive, particularly between themselves, but also tough and determined, which seems a perfect combination of characteristics for amateur sleuths who find themselves in a strange and mysterious situation as the real truth about their parents’ employment emerges and they are separated from them for their own safety.

As well as writing another cracking story that will engage independent readers who love a good mystery, Harvey also invites the reader into the story by enabling them to try to solve the clues as they read and using the mysterious Caesar code to encrypt the chapter headings.

With the second in the series, Disappearing Act just weeks away from release this is the perfect time to hook young readers into an intriguing series from one of our best authors for the age group.


Little Witch (series)

Little Witch (series)

Little Witch (series)









Secrets & Spells


Hauntings & Hexes


Plots & Potions


Aleesah Darlison

Big Sky Publishing, 2017-2018

176pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

The tiny beach town of Mixton Bay isn’t Courtney’s idea of a holiday. In fact, she thinks it the sleepiest, most boring holiday place ever and the house she is to stay in is so ugly even a dog wouldn’t sleep in it. But now her grandmother, whom she never met and whom her father hasn’t spoken to for years has died and her house must be sorted and sold.  But once she gets there her curiosity takes over and she starts asking questions about her family’s history and why it has been so fractured.  Little does she know that those family secrets, magic and mystery, and the memory of her grandma Delia will result in a special holiday to remember.

 When she finds a mystical ‘Book of Spells’ with her name on the box, discovers Ink the talking cat and a new surfer friend, Justice who has a secret of his own, suddenly her life gets very interesting and is changed forever.

The Little Witch Series features wholesome magical stories with gentle elements of tween/teen romance. The stories deal with realistic family and relationship issues set against a backdrop of fantasy and magical escapism centred in the real world. Light-hearted and funny, this series feature a strong, independent and unique female lead character whom readers will relate to as she confronts familiar situations with new solutions, learning more and more about her family and herself as she does so. 

No matter what series Darlison writes she has a knack of creating totally believable characters who are great role models for young readers showing independence, imagination and ingenuity while still engrossing them in a compelling and intriguing adventure.  

Dotty Detective (series)

Dotty Detective (series)

Dotty Detective (series)











Dotty Detective (series)

Clara Vulliamy

Harper Collins, 2017+

176pp., pbk., RRP $A9.99

Super Secret Agent


The Paw Print Puzzle


The Midnight Mystery


The Lost Puppy


The Birthday Surprise


The Holiday Mystery 


Meet Dorothy Constance Mae Louise, or Dot as she prefers to be called! She and her best pal Beans and TOP DOG McClusky love to solve mysteries and in this new series written especially for the young almost-independent reader, there are plenty of mysteries to be solved!

Inspired by their favourite television character Fred Fantastic, Ace Detective, Dotty and her best friend Beans have formed the Join The Dots Detective Agency.  They have special badges that they wear underneath their coat collars so they don’t blow their cover and are ably assisted by Dotty’s dog McClusky to solve mysteries that seem to occur.

Guided by Fred Fantastic’s tenets of

  • Stay Frosty. Always be on the lookout
  • Follow That Hunch. If you’ve got a funny feeling you may be onto something important
  • Use Your Noodle. Think
  •  A Light Bulb Moment. A sudden genius idea
  • Get Proof.  You must have the evidence before you can solve your case
  • Jeepers Creepers Use your Peepers

In Super Secret Agent  mean girl Laura seems set on sabotaging the school talent show, Dot is determined to find out how, and save the day…

In The Paw Print Mystery  Dot starts hearing strange noises at night she’s convinced there must be something SPOOKY afoot. But before they can prove there’s a ghost on the loose, Dot and Beans have to follow Ace Detective Fred Fantastic’s golden rule: GET PROOF. Easier said than done when the suspect appears to be invisible!

In The Midnight Mystery Dot and Beans can’t wait for their school trip to Adventure Camp where they will do lots of exciting activities like zip-wiring, grass tobogganing and roasting marshmallows round a campfire! But once they arrive, strange things start happening. Could mean girl Laura could be up to her old tricks in a bid to win the Adventure Camp Prize…? It’s up to the Join the Dots Detectives to find out!  Meanwhile, TOP DOG McClusky is entered into a local dog show! Will he keep up his training while Dot’s away and win the prize for handsomest pooch?

Last week of term in The Lost Puppy and the children are looking forward to the School summer fair. Dotty and best pal Beans will be looking after pet’s corner, starring McClusky and his two canine pals: Geoffrey and the little sausage dog puppy, Chipolata. But just days before the fair disaster strikes – Chipolata has gone missing.

The Birthday Surprise has Dot’s trusty sidekick, Beans and TOP DOG, McClusky are keeping secrets from Dotty while The Holiday Mystery (due July 2018) Dotty and Beans are SUPER excited about their summer holiday together. It’s going to be SO much fun. Beaches, BBQs and best of all NO SCHOOL! But there’s no rest for the Join the Dots Detectives who soon have a campsite case to solve…

This is a new series that is perfect for the newly independent reader with its layout, illustrations, larger font, shorter chapters and humour.  The pace is rapid and the use of a variety of fonts highlights key ideas and actions without the need for a host of words.  Girls will relate to her feisty nature but boys will also find the situations familiar and appealing. 

The Most Marvellous Spelling Bee Mystery

The Most Marvellous Spelling Bee Mystery

The Most Marvellous Spelling Bee Mystery









The Most Marvellous Spelling Bee Mystery

Deborah Abela

Random House Australia, 2018

240pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99


In Yungabilla, Australia, Toronto, Canada and Wormwood, England three young people are receiving invitations to an event that could change their lives forever.  Having proved their ability as champion spellers, each has been invited to compete in the Most Marvellous International Spelling Bee in London. But, like all children, each is unique and faces their own difficulties in getting to London.

India Wimple who won Australia’s  The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee is so shy that she cannot compete without her family by her side but the organisers will only pay for the contestant and one chaperone; Canada’s champion Holly Trifle’s family is reminiscent of the Wormwoods in Dahl’s Matilda and see her competing only as a way to promote their weight-loss business; while bullied, lonely Peter Ericksson hopes that maybe his absent dad will see his face on television, recognise him  and come home because it’s been 2922 days since he walked out and left a dad-sized hole in Peter’s life.

With incredible insight into the lives of children, Deborah Abela has crafted an engaging, unputadownable story that weaves the  lives of India, Holly and Peter together as well as the familiar faces of Rajish and Summer as they compete while trying to get to the bottom of some mysterious mishaps.  

Independent readers will relate to all three characters – if they are not mirrors then they will know someone like them – and will become engrossed as they follow their struggles to overcome their personal obstacles as much as their competitive ones.  Being able to put yourself in the shoes of the characters is the most important way to ensure the page is turned to see what happens to them and Abela has the ability to do this in spades.  Miss 11 is going to LOVE this sequel.

Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy (series)

Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy (series)

Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy (series)






Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy (series)

Jane Smith

Pat Kan

Big Sky Publishing, 2016-2018

100pp., pbk., RRP $A12.50

When Tommy Bell is sent to work on his grandfather’s farm for the school holidays, he is very reluctant to go because he would rather stay with his mates in his regional NSW town.  But while he is exploring a cave, he discovers an old bushranger’s hat and he is whisked back to a previous time when these outlaws roamed the Australian bush.

Each book in the series brings Tommy and his friends face-to-face with one of our history’s well-known bushranger characters and as they are involved in an exciting adventure they learn not only about our past but also themselves as the historic story parallels their contemporary lives. 

Written for independent young readers, this series offers a different theme for this audience with its time-travelling going backwards rather than forwards.  The first, Shoot Out at the Rock, was a 2017 CBCA Notable, a testament to the content and the quality of the writing. 

Lessons of a LAC

Lessons of a LAC

Lessons of a LAC










Lessons of a LAC

Lynn Jenkins

Kirrili Lonergan

EK Books, 2018

32pp., pbk., RRP $A19.99


In one village on one side of the mountains live the LACs – Little Anxious Children who constantly look for danger and who only have negative self-talk; in another village on the other side of the mountains live their enemies the Calmsters who can take life as it comes because of their positive self-talk.  The two sides are constantly battling because when one wins, the other shrinks.

One day Loppy the LAC decides to climb the mountain and spy on the Calmsters but his anxiety goes through the roof when he spies a Calmster looking back.  And not only looking back, but coming to meet him! Who will win the impending battle? Does there have to be a winner and a loser?

Anxiety amongst children in on the increase.  According to a recent national survey of the mental health and wellbeing of Australian children and adolescents, approximately 278,000 Australian children aged between 4 and 17 struggle with clinical symptoms of Anxiety. (For a summary see kidsfirst children’s services) Therefore books which shine a light on this condition which affects 1 in 7 of those between 4 and 17 and which can be used as a starting point to help the child manage the symptoms are both important and welcome, particularly as mindfulness and mental health are gaining traction in school curricula. While there are almost as many causes of anxiety as there are children affected by it,  such as not being perfect, helping children turn their self-talk around, as Curly did for Loppy, is a critical starting point and many classrooms are now displaying images such as these…


Not only do such explicit statements give the anxious child prompts for the new words, but they also acknowledge that anxiety is real and that there are others who are anxious too.  While climbing that internal mountain as Loppy did can be hard, knowing that there are others who also battle can be reassuring. While teachers are not clinical psychologists like the author, having tools like the Loppy books in the mindfulness collection and using them not only to help the Loppies move forward but also to help the Calmsters learn that some of their friends may be like Loppy so deserve  and need understanding rather than ridicule can be a starting point in achieving harmony in the classroom.

Teachers’ notes which extend the story into practical applications are available.















Mac Barnett

Jon Klassen

Walker Books, 2018

48pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


Each day, Square goes deep into his secret cave and takes a block from the pile below the ground, pushes it up all the stairs and out of the cave and stacks it on the other squares he has already made into a pile on the top of the hill.  Circle, whom Square thinks is perfect, admires his work so much and uses words like “sculptor” and “genius” and demands that Square makes a sculpture of her. 

But it is very difficult to make a square into a perfect circle and while he tries very hard, all he ends up with is rubble.  As the rain tumbles down and day turns to night, he continues to chip away until he finally falls asleep.  Despairing that he will have let his friend Circle down,. Square dreads her visit but then…

We first met Square in the initial book in this series, Triangle, and once again Barnett and Klassen have crafted an intriguing tale with few words and evocative monochromatic pictures. Being able to convey emotions, expressions and  exchanges through the use of basic shapes and eyeballs is a gift and the reader is encouraged to look closely at the illustrations to absorb all that is going on in the interactions between Square and Circle, and the internal battle Square ends up having.

And, as with Triangle,   the story takes the reader beyond the maths concepts of shape recognition and into the realm of philosophy.  What is perfection?  Is it achievable? It is OK for things to be less than perfect if we have given it our best shot?  Those children in our classes who are afraid to to start something in case it is not perfect on the first attempt or giving up in tears, frustration and even anger might draw comfort from Square’s persistence and perseverance and also understand that “perfect” has a different meaning for everyone. There could also be discussions about whether Circle’s expectations were reasonable – just because we are good at one thing, does that make us good at another?

Lots to ponder as we await the third in the trilogy, no doubt focusing on the perfect Circle.



The Little Mermaid

The Little Mermaid

The Little Mermaid










The Little Mermaid

Alex Field

Owen Swan

New Frontier, 2018

32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


In 1837, Hans Christian Andersen gave the world his classic story of Ariel, the little mermaid who falls in love with a human prince and in exchange for legs so she can walk on earth with him, she gives up her voice. It is very much a tale of “Be careful what you wish for.”

Retold many times and in many formats, probably the most-well-known version being that of Disney, this is a new retelling that goes back to the original without all the “trimmings”.  For younger readers who are emerging as independent readers, it is retold simply in a straight-forward manner with beautiful new illustrations in water colour and coloured pencils. 

While teachers’ notes are available, it could be used as one of a number of versions of this story to compare and contrast additions, alterations and omissions that the various retellers have chosen to make.  

Others in this series include The Ugly Duckling, The Princess and the Pea, Little Red Riding Hood and Beauty and the Beast.

Parvana – a graphic novel

Parvana - a graphic novel

Parvana – a graphic novel











Parvana – a graphic novel

Deborah Ellis

Allen & Unwin, 2018

80pp., graphic novel, RRP $A19.99


In 2000, Canadian author Deborah Ellis told the story of Parvana, an 11 year old girl who living in  Kabul, Afghanistan with her mother Fatana, her father, her older sister Nooria, and two younger siblings, Maryam and Ali when Taliban soldiers enter her house and arrest her father for having a foreign education and beginning a fascinating, intriguing, award-winning series of books which include Parvana’s Journey , Shauzia  and Parvana’s Promise that shone a spotlight on the conditions of women and girls in Afghanistan that continues to this day.

As a series it is an amazing, true-to-life story of a young girl living in circumstances that the rest of the world knew little about but which has now led to the establishment of international organisations which support not only Afghan women but the recognition and provision of education for girls in male-dominated countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan.  As a story, it is one of courage, resilience, determination and grit that is inspirational as well as educational.  So many young girls that I know who have read this have commented about how it puts their own issues into perspective.

Renamed The Breadwinner in the US, it was made into a film of the same name and now that has been adapted into graphic novel format which will enable so many more to learn about Parvana’s story and perhaps continue to read the entire series.

If this series is not on your shelves for your Year 5/6+ readers, it should be.  If it is but has not circulated, perhaps it is time to promote it to a new audience.   In my opinion, it is a modern classic that should be read by all as an introduction to the world beyond the Australian classroom.


NB If you are searching for the series it also has the titles The Breadwinner (1),  Mud City (3) and My Name is Parvana (4)